Picking the NL champ doesn’t present nearly as difficult of a task as predicting the AL. The Dodgers are the clear favorite and will likely come out on top with such a deep staff and the league’s top offense. It’s never a given, however, and one only needs to look at the past to see that it almost never goes as planned. It is baseball after all, and the playoffs are a whole different animal. There’s plenty of nerves to go around and you never know how players will respond until they hit the field. Plus, with the first two rounds only going three and five games respectively, anything can happen.
The NL playoffs will take place at the new Global Life Field in Arlington and in Houston’s Minute Maid Park. Both are renowned as hitters parks where offense and home runs should rule the narrative. There will be no days off, so staffs will need to be deep and minor injuries quickly shaken off.
The Dodgers are, of course, a great pick even at just over even money, but let’s explore some other possible teams, along with the Dodgers who could make a run at the pennant. The odds are rather decent and do make for some very worthwhile picks.
Los Angels Dodgers +130
The LA Dodgers are heavily favored and for good reason. They do everything well and will have no problem running through a Corbin Burnes-less Brewers, followed by the winner of the Padres/Cardinals series. They’ve already shown they can handle the Padres during the regular season, and with the injuries among the pitching staff, San Diego will have an even tougher time advancing. The Cardinals, if they somehow make it past the Padres, will pose little threat to LA over a 5 game series. St.Louis’s staff simply doesn’t have enough quality arms to get it done. Even if Jack Flaherty or Kwang-hyun Kim throws a gem against the Dodgers #1 run-scoring offense, good luck to the rest of the staff trying to shut them down.
That leaves the Championship Series vs. either the Braves, Cubs, or possibly the Reds. As good as these three teams are, none of them have the overall depth and ability to match up with the Dodgers, and even though they may force six or even seven games, Los Angeles will be the heavy favorite. No one can match their firepower on offense to go along with their top-notch staff and shut down bullpen. They averaged almost 2 home runs a game and while the Cubs and Braves do have a shot, they won’t nearly be up to the challenge.
As of today, the Dodgers are listed at +130 to win the pennant, which all things considered is very reasonable. Once they advance that number will drop to even money or even into the negative. They won’t pay out a ton, but there’s an obvious reason for it. Take the Dodgers who only lost 17 games all season.
Cincinnati Reds +1200/Atlanta Braves + 550
I loved the Reds over a week ago when they were listed at a ridiculous 35-1 to win the NL pennant. Now that they’ve made it in as the 7th seed, you’ll have to settle for the current 12-1 line. The way their bats have come alive supported by some gutty pitching performances, you have to like their chances.
Over their final five 3 game series, 4 of which came against playoff-bound teams, the Reds won all of them. The most recent series impressively came against the AL Central champs, the Minnesota Twins.
In the Wild Card round, they draw the NL East champs, the Atlanta Braves. At first glance, the Braves are the obvious choice in this series, but taking into consideration the pitching matchups and possible injuries, the outlook is a lot more evenly matched.
When discussing the Cincinnati Reds, one must start with Cy Young candidate, Trevor Bauer. The electric starter has been nothing short of phenomenal this year. He ended the season with a 1.73 ERA, including 2 shutouts, a 0.795 WHIP, and 12.3 SO/9. He’ll start game 1, opposed by Braves ace, Max Fried. Fried, while impressive by his own right (2.25 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.0 SO/9), was not quite as overpowering as Bauer.
Fried has also dealt with some injuries lately. He left his last start after one inning with a tweaked ankle, and a few weeks prior he spent time on the IL for a side injury (muscle spasm in his lumbar spine). His strongest attribute is that he limits home runs, something the Reds live and die by. Having allowed only 2 home runs over 56 innings, Fried presents a very difficult matchup for the Reds as long as he’s healthy. I wouldn’t bet against Bauer however, not this year. The guy is on a mission and he’s an absolute machine. If he can keep the ball in the ballpark, I expect the Reds to sneak by and steal a victory in game 1.
The Braves staff quickly goes downhill after Fried and will have a tough time winning two in a row against the changeup specialist, Luis Castillo, and a healthy Sonny Gray. That is of course if they can limit MVP candidate Freddy Freeman and company, who as a whole have scored more runs than any team other than the Dodgers. They also slugged the second-most home runs in the league, while leading all of MLB in total bases and OPS.
The Braves also have to hope Ronald Acuna’s wrist will hold up, which caused him to miss the end of the regular season. Reports are that he’s a full go for game one, but it’s something to consider when placing your hard-earned cash.
The Reds will have their hands full, getting past the Braves, Cubs, and Dodgers, but the tenacity they’ve shown over the past two weeks leads me to believe at 12-1 you don’t have a lot to lose. With this in mind, both teams are worth taking at their current odds. While I rarely do this, I’m taking the Reds at 12-1 and the Braves with their ridiculous lineup at 5.5-1 to win the NL Pennant.
Chicago Cubs +750
Something, maybe just call it a gut feeling, or possibly because they drew the Marlins in the first round, but something tells me the Cubs are going to get hot in the playoffs and make a strong run at the pennant. Seeing Kris Bryant finally come alive and watching Willson Contreras hit multiple bombs (with possibly the largest bat flip of all time) in the final series against the White Sox, has me thinking these guys are going to come out streaking in the playoffs.
Let’s face it, the Cubs, outside of staff ace Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks, have looked downright bad. Yet somehow, they were able to win a division where 4 teams made the playoffs! Their bullpen hasn’t been good with the exception of Jeremy Jeffress, and even he walks too many guys. The lineup has slumped most of the year while still hitting some timely home runs, and the starting staff, besides the two guys previously, mentioned has scuffled. All that said, however, the playoffs are a whole different animal and once you’re in, it’s all about how you match up against the single opponent you’re faced with.
First up is the Marlins. As great of a story that they made it into the playoffs, Darvish and Hendricks should make quick work of their unrelenting lineup. Then they’ll face either the Braves or the Reds. While either team will make for a difficult matchup, the Cubs beat the Reds 6 out of 10 times during the regular season. They never faced the Braves, but on paper, I do believe they match up quite well against them.
If Darvish and Hendricks can do their thing, and Jon Lester, who’s always great in the playoffs (1.93 ERA over his last 56 IP) can keep it going, the Cubs are going to surprise a lot of people. At 15/2 you are taking them to simply make the NLCS, which allows you to hedge your bet and likely take the Dodgers in the series.
With the Marlins in the first round and the matchups on their side, the Cubs make for a decent long shot at 7.5 to 1.
Whether you’re new to sports betting or a betting pro, our How To Bet and Sports Betting Strategy and Advice pages are for you. You can get started with our Sports Betting 101 Section — including 10 Sports Betting Tips for Beginners — or head to more advanced sports betting strategy — like Key Numbers When Betting Against the Spread — to learn more.
Austin Lowell is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.